New director of the Art Gallery of Geelong, Jason Smith, set out immediately when he took over in May 2016, to secure the Fred Williams exhibition for the Gallery. A stunning collection of over 50 paintings, drawing and prints which are entirely focused on our beloved You Yangs, this collection includes the entire sweep of Williams’ 1963 works for which he won many awards.
Smith has had immediate support from Lyn Williams (Fred’s widow) and believes this exhibition is essential, “particularly because the You Yangs were regarded as a turning point in Fred’s work, it’s the place that he developed his classic painterly language that we instantly recognise,” Smith explains.
Not the first to take a fascination with this exquisite landscape, the You Yangs have been a focus for many of our painterly heroes, Roberts and Streeton, and still our contemporaries such as Mark Dober, who was recently exhibiting at the Gallery. After a personal sojourn over Easter, Smith reveals his fascination.
“Having spent each of the four days walking into the You Yangs and taking a different walk everyday, once you are in there and once you see what is in there, it just becomes a very enigmatic, deeply entrancing place. It’s not until you are in there that you see the sort of rich diversity of views and perspectives that you can get on the landscape, on its geological characteristics and special characteristics, so it doesn’t surprise me that artists remain fascinated by the You Yangs,” he says.
It is for this very reason that artist Fred Williams has held a lingering love for this rugged landscape and made it a focus for decades of his work. The You Yangs study in the early ’60s marked a change in the way Williams felt landscape could be represented, toying with the once heralded horizon line and using colour and light to drive his mark making.
“Fred had the same capacity as an artist to see the quality of a landscape and to uncannily represent them in these dashes and dabs and touches of paint that just eloquently captured that particular characteristic of the landscape, they’re abstract and they’re representational all at once,” Smith explains.
Taking a leap into the unknown, a virtual reality Fred Williams experience is on offer, something that has never been included in an exhibition before. Guests will be given a headset and headphones and be guided through a talk, a moment inside the painting and finally a view of the landscape that inspired the painting.
“The idea of standing in front of the painting and having the painting dissolve around you then all of a sudden being in the landscape that inspired the painting is all very new,” he says, “we hope people respond to it.”
An Outreach tour of the You Yangs is taking place on Sunday October 7 and a Gallery After Dark experience will kick off on Friday October 13, featuring live music, pizza and wine tents by Steampocket. With a stunningly new refurbished Foyer, Smith has worked hard to make sure his first curatorial experience at the Art Gallery of Geelong is an experience not to be missed.
When & Where: Geelong Gallery, Geelong – running until November 5
Written by Alex Forssman